Sunday Morning with Alex Guarnaschelli – Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2014

This Food & Wine Event took place on November 9, 2014

Our last event for this year’s Epcot Food and Wine Festival, again we’re with Lisa and Andy (our partners in food & wine). We did “Sweet Sundays” with them a while back (Sweet Sunday with Warren Brown). We expected some particular differences this year – (1) no buffet but plated brunch and (2) a variety of pastries on the table. We hoped that the baked goods would be better than what was served two years ago, but we weren’t holding our collective breath on that one.

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Seating was designated by a wine varietal – we sat at Prosecco

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the table decoration was a blend of Food & Wine Festival and Disney Vacation Club

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they began seating at 10:00

Here we are at our table. We have our pastries (well, actually we have a small croissant and a small linzer torte sort of pastry each), our fruit cups, water, and Prosecco. Coffee (regular and decaf) were soon served.

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lots of silverware and a look at the menu

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the menu definitely runs more to the brunch/lunch side of things (IMNHO)

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time for fruit and pastries

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We were given a glass of Prosecco as we entered the event-space

It’s funny to me that Disney World (or at least the hostess, Pam) seem to be a little bit embarrassed about giving us wine at 10:00. She made a joke about it “Wine at 9, all is fine. Wine at 10, we’re at it again” – seems to me that after all the years these hard ticketed events have been going on at Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and with all the information out there on the internet, that if you didn’t know you were getting wine with breakfast, you probably don’t know that there are special breakfasts during F&W.

The wine for our breakfast is going to be Martini Prosecco (I guess they stopped calling it Martini and Rossi at some point). We’ll have Martini Asti with our dessert.

Time to tuck in and get started. Lisa does hostess duty of making sure the other couple at our table are introduced to the four of us and that we all find a common ground for conversation.

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Fruit Salad – tiny dice cantaloupe, honeydew, and pineapple with a few blueberries, a blackberry, a raspberry and a piece of strawberry

The fruit salad was quite nice, especially topped with the vanilla yogurt. We promptly followed Lisa’s lead and dropped our raspberry and blackberry into our wine – it helped make it all come together.

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Driscoll’s Berries was one of the sponsors 2 years ago, given the non-abundance of berries this year and lack of promotional materials… it’s clear that they aren’t this year

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Mickey Butter for our pastries

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pastry and bread – not much variety but sufficient for this part of the meal

Time for “brunch”…

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Seared Free Range Chicken Breast with Lobster Cream Sauce and Asparagus (Nick’s plate had a lot more asparagus on it than mine did)

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Roasted Artichoke Sundried Tomato Quiche

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The spices and seasonings on this plate didn’t really say “breakfast” or “brunch” to us… it said Sunday Lunch at a hotel

The quiche was the best thing on the plate after the asparagus. We noticed that the portions of sides were inconsistent (not a surprise to be honest). The chicken was just okay in our opinion, the skin wasn’t really crispy and for a few bites of mine, I wished I’d had better lighting because I wasn’t sure that it was cooked completely (I left some of it for that reason). The potatoes were rather dull to be honest (very little bacon and I don’t remember the leeks at all), scalloped or au gratin potatoes paired with a crispy skinned chicken would have been better (put the sauce and butter and cheese with the potatoes). We talked about it around our table and decided that chicken was probably the way to go given that some people don’t eat beef, some don’t eat pork, and a lot of them would freak out if you served them lamb or venison.

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honestly, this reminds me of brunch at the Holiday Inn on Sundays back in the 1980s… sorry

Now it’s time for the FUN! (and I mean that in total sincerity, Alex G is now my favorite Celebrity Chef – Chef Kevin Dundon is my favorite small-c celebrity chef, he’s not on FoodNetwork).

Pam was the hostess today and she was relying quite heavily on her notes to introduce Alex and to direct the presentation. Alex took the steering wheel of the presentation and we were off to the races. Basically, she mixed answering questions with funny stories and quips and tossed in a good helping of food information and demonstration.

We were able to get some “action shots” of Alex (sorry, they aren’t all very good, we were seated in the rear at our favorite table – is it horrible that we have a favorite table in the demonstration arena?). I recently bought her newest cookbook Old School Comfort Food, and she’s just the same in person as she is when writing… Love it. Want to do it myself.

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Alex was just like I expected her to be only more so

“Did you know that you can drink away a hangover, you just keep going”

“How did I get to be on tv? I wish I knew…”

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Talking about Iron Chef and Next Iron Chef

On “Iron Chef” –

  • Liked the way you make loads of things from one ingredient. Great fun.
  • Had two sous chefs, she selected them herself (they aren’t assigned by FoodNetwork)
  • Studied and practiced like crazy before the competition (6 weeks), had a 30 page (or there about) notepad of ideas and concepts that could be applied broadly
  • Jogged a lot during those six weeks of prep … “I hate jogging”
  • We don’t have a clue what the secret ingredient is going to be, total surprise
  • Couldn’t believe the ending – she was so exhausted and stressed out that she couldn’t really stand up straight (she thought she saw Amanda Freitag’s hair behind the covering of the portrait of the next winner), the producers kept saying “stand up straight” – she was totally shocked when she won, said it was like giving birth and that it was one of the most rewarding moments of her life

On Next Iron Chef – this was very competitive, everyone was all thrown together (I think she said it was like being back in college dorms). Geoffrey Zakarian would get up each morning and read many newspapers to prepare for the day, she’d be stressing out over what the challenge was going to be, he told her to relax that stressing out wasn’t going to make it any easier (note, they’re great friends).

The first sweet that we were served during Alex’s demo was a coffee granita. We liked how the lemon added a bit of spark to the granita. There were questions from the audience about how to alter or change this up. Alex suggested using lemon cello and lemonade instead of coffee liquor and coffee.

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first time I’ve ever had Coffee Granita – liked it

On “Chopped” –

  • Judging is about cooking to please me
  • Sometimes, I really don’t like what’s in the basket, but I don’t let it influence my judging
  • Working the cast and crew of “Chopped” is like being on “Friends”
  • The only thing that upsets me is when contestants give up or get a self-defeatist attitude
  • Candy is really hard to work with
  • We don’t know what’s in the baskets before production

What are my favorite foods?

  • When she was pregnant she wanted watermelon and fried clams. She bought so many watermelons that the ladies at her local market started looking at her strangely.
  • She loves meatballs. Her granma’s lasagna had loads and loads of tiny meatballs (hmmmm, new-ish to us)
  • She loves eggplant parmigiana
  • One of her favorite desserts is cannoli, she’ll make the filling and just eat that… (sounds like it would be lovely over some light pancakes served with some crispy, salty bacon)
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I have a problem, the bakery by my house in New York City… I have to cross to the other side of the street to stop myself from going in and buying tons of pastry (then eating them).

Alex and her helper made raspberry doughnuts (really, beignets) with vanilla sauce. Alex is a big fan of American yeast doughs, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for our baking. A few tips:

  • sugar has sharp edges that cut butter and adds air = creaming process;
  • you can’t over cream butter and sugar
  • cooking, especially baking, takes patience – step away from the mixer and let it do its thing
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Raspberry Beignet with Vanilla Cream Dipping Sauce -the Asti paired well with the doughnut

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one half of mine was slightly undercooked, Nick quickly offered to switch (he loves slightly undercooked dough)

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this was very good, loved loved loved the vanilla cream sauce, could have skipped the sugar on the outside as far as I was concerned

Foods that Alex doesn’t like (foods that she’ll say in public she doesn’t like): Vienna Sausages and Spam

Weirdest thing Alex has ever cooked with – 1000 year old egg

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Alex Guarnaschelli

Next up “Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting and Caramel Top (Dobos Torte)”… Honestly, Nick and I were expecting to be served some crappy sheet cake… No! We got REAL LAYER CAKE!!!

  • very flavorful
  • the texture of the cake itself wasn’t what we prefer, but it tasted really good
  • the chocolate icing was wonderful
  • we didn’t get any of the caramel sauce, we had a shard of caramel and it needed salt, tasted like burnt sugar

After the butter and sugar were creamed for the beignets and the cake, the wet and dry are mixed together by hand, not by mixer.

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chocolate layer cake

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this was very good (the best baked good we’ve had out of the Epcot Festival Center kitchen – oops, excepting Kevin Dundon’s Bread and Butter Pudding (but he brings his own staff))

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you can see how they put the icing between layers with a piping bag

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even though we weren’t hungry at this point…

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… all this yumminess was eaten (and we’re sort of snobs about baked goods)

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How did Alex decide to become a chef? She graduated from college and thought I like to bake cake, I like to eat cake, I’ll be a chef. Plus there aren’t any uniforms, don’t have to wear panty hose or high heels, get to sleep late and stay up late.

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this little girl came up on stage to ask her question – why did you decide to be a chef?

#1 bit of advice for culinary students – learning to be a chef is repetitious, tedious, and boring at times – very rewarding in the end.

The little brother for the girl who came on stage had a question too… he shouted out “Is it Fun?” and Alex replied “Yes! It is!”

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grating lemon zest for the cake – she likes a little salt and a little acid in most everything she cooks and bakes (I agree!)

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Cutco knife in Alex’s hand – she tells us you could cut through a Volkswagen with these knives

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Now we’re on to making icing and talking about cookbooks

Alex really likes cookbooks (well, that’s not a surprise). For cooking – recipes are a guideline … For baking, pastry, desserts – don’t wing it, there’s a lot of chemistry going on.

  • LOVES Fannie Farmer Cookbook – been using it since she was a kid, when she was little, she’d get up on a weekend morning and make something for herself from FF, she says she learned to cook using Fannie Farmer
    • Did you know that Fannie Farmer was the first cookbook in the U.S. to truly quantify cooking and baking
    • Alex would make breakfast or coffee cake or whatever for herself, she didn’t treat her parents to breakfast she’d made
      • It’s easier to scale down a recipe than it is to scale up a recipe
  • Joy of Cooking 1997 edition

Someone asked about scales versus measuring cups and spoons. Alex said she prefers cups and spoons over doing everything by weight (I’d say probably that some FF influence coming in to play).

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Icing the cake – she’s very generous with the frosting

The sous chef on stage (a culinary student), made the hot caramel sauce…

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… Alex poured the hot caramel sauce over the just iced cake

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Alex’s Mom made this for her one year for her birthday – it became her all-time favorite birthday cake…

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… now I need an excuse to make it!

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the caramel looks like lava running down the cake all crazy

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Andy was able to get the last copy of her cookbook at the Festival Center store for Lisa

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and Alex happily signed cookbooks, photos, etc… (but not for long, she had a plane to catch)

Okay, so I’d started reading her cookbook on my kindle before this event. Nick’s only exposure to Alex was her judging on Chopped. Neither of us really watch Iron Chef or any of the other shows in that franchise. We were both pleasantly surprised by Alex G in person, I don’t think we expected to find her as witty and charming as she was. Not only does she know cooking (well, that’s a given since she’s an Iron Chef), she’s just downright fun to learn from.

We’ve decided, that if/when we get another opportunity to see her, we’re going to be there with bells on (figuratively, not literally, that would be too distracting).

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